Archived Story

He has always dressed for recess

Published 7:22am Thursday, March 1, 2012

Column: Tales from Exit 22

I just read an article that stressed dressing for success. I believe in dressing for recess.

I maintain that the secret to winter survival is to dress like a dork. It doesn’t matter what clothes look like as long as they keep you warm. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

School recesses presented an array of winter togs when we were too young to care what our clothes looked like. Clothes didn’t have to match during those years when we were certain that the opposite sex had cooties.

Recess was a snow globe with much shaking. I put on mittens, boots, coat, hat, scarf and snow pants. We played games of snow — engaged in snowball fights, built snowmen and snow forts, made snow angels and played king of the hill. We played freeze tag, but not intentionally. Fox and geese was a popular game in which snow was tramped into a pattern resembling a wheel with a hub, spokes and a rim. All but one of the players were geese congregated in the hub. One was the fox and roamed the spokes and rim. The geese ran from the spokes and around the rim, returning through the spokes to the hub with the fox in pursuit. The hub was a safe area for geese. If the fox caught a goose, the goose became another fox. This continued until all geese were caught or the school bell rang. The object of the game was to see how quickly I could lose a mitten.

Snow was a big part of our lives. Shel Silverstein wrote, “I made myself a snowball, just as perfect as could be. I thought I’d keep it as a pet and let it sleep with me. I gave it some pajamas and a pillow for its head. Then, last night it ran away, but first it wet the bed!”

We spent half the recess putting on clothes to go outside and the remaining time removing those clothes when back indoors. No matter, we frolicked.

“The Graduate” is a movie in which the hero, Benjamin Braddock played by Dustin Hoffman, received one word of career advice from a family friend, “Plastics.” This counsel hinted at a life of certain success.

My mother never saw that movie, but she followed that advice when she went to a back-to-school sale in order to clothe me properly while I attended grade school. She purchased a winter combo. Mittens, a hat with oversized earflaps and a winter coat — all featuring rubbery plastic exteriors. My mother presented the ensemble to me with all the fanfare she could muster.

I wore the outfit to school. No one pointed and snickered. My garb was cool in a feeble way. Life was good.

After devouring a delicious and nutritious lunch of beanie weenies (baked beans surrounding outnumbered slices of wieners), we prepared to venture outside for recess. Snow covered the ground. It was cold. It had to be — it was January, a cold snap that didn’t make life a snap. The mercury had fallen an inch below the thermometer. The weather had a mean streak in those days. School went on as usual. No frigid weather was going to keep us from becoming educated.

My life changed in the middle of a spirited game of fox and geese. I began to move with the grace of a knight in rusty armor. I became the Michelin Man. I was a bad float in a tiny version of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. My plastic coat had frozen. I couldn’t bend my elbows.

The school bell rang. I tottered into the hallowed halls. The outdoors came indoors. Students disassembled. Wet boots, coats, scarves, sweaters, gloves, mittens, snow pants and hats were removed. Pupils downsized to fit at their desks.

As was my habit, I tossed my wet clothing onto the radiator to dry. The smell of steaming clothing mixed with the smell of chalk produced an intoxicating aroma.

We were engrossed in the mysteries of vocabulary when our teacher hit us with a new word, “Yecchhh! What is that fetid odor?”

I thought it was a lunchroom experiment gone awry, but it proved to be the stench of my new coat melting on the radiator.

I snatched the coat from its tormentor. It looked as if it had been branded by a steam iron gone berserk.

I wore that burned plastic until a sale on snow shovels at the hardware store indicated it was warm enough to go coatless.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.